By Neto Baptiste
A veteran football referee and former player, Audwin Walsh, believes that a lack of adequate referees have led to the burnout of the few FIFA qualified officials the country has produced over the years.
Walsh, a former president of the Antigua and Barbuda Football Referees Association (ABFRA), said those referees who would have graduated to the FIFA list are often left with no other option than to officiate in two or three times the amount of matches they should on a weekly basis, simply because there is not enough manpower to consistently cover the FA’s weekly schedule.
“With our FIFA referees, they should probably only be doing one game per week, but what happens around here is that these guys have to double up and triple up, doing three and four games and they are running the risk of becoming fatigued, and that is not good. So, whereas the longevity of the referee should be until about 45, because of our community and the amount of games, you find that when we get to 35 or so, we are burnt out,” he said.
The referee was speaking on the heels of discussions regarding the football association’s decision to increase the Premier Division from 10 to 16 teams ahead of their next possible season.
Walsh said the body has been on an aggressive recruitment drive in hopes of blooding new officials.
“We have attracted some youngsters, about 13 or 14 of them, with age ranging from 17 to 23 which is a pretty good start and I think that we are heading in the right direction. The thing I am worried about at the moment is how we are going to manage this programme because whereas in the past the guys like Curtis Charles and I and persons before us wanted to do this, it is a little different for the young people so we have to manage how this programme is run and get them to stay. I think that we have not done enough education in terms of getting them to stay,” he said.
He warned, however, that the role is more than just a part time job, but has evolved into something more.
“To me, it’s more of a career right now, so you have to make a decision whether you want to be a footballer or you wanted to be a referee and not just transition from the game because by the time most of us would have played and decided to stop at 30 something, by then our whole refereeing life would have gone. So I am imploring youngsters to think seriously about making this a career because it involves a lot of on the field training and off the field training,” Walsh said.
The FA’s restructuring of its top flight has left many questioning the ability of the referees association to handle the workload.
In a previous interview, President of the referees association, Oliver Joseph, said the body was not consulted on the decision to increase the top flight.